Archive for August 26th, 2011

August 26, 2011

Steve Jobs Trumps CEO of $5 Trillion Economy: William Pesek

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William Pesek

Things are bad when a world leader quitting registers less than a corporate executive. That’s what Naoto Kan gets for bowing out the same week as Steve Jobs.

Markets reacted immediately to news of Jobs’s departure from Apple Inc. (AAPL); there was barely a ripple after Kan cashed out and paved the way for Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. Since Jobs returned to Apple’s top spot in 1997, Japan has had nine premiers. Next week, it will have yet another.

It may seem odd to compare the leadership of a company with helming the third-largest economy. Yet what does it say about a nation of 127 million people when Kan stepping down is considered a sideshow internationally to the sexier whither- Apple story?

It says the world is tuning out Japan’s $5 trillion economy. Never mind that Japan is home to some of Asia’s biggest markets and has the region’s most international currency. The place is just too dysfunctional for many investors who can easily find healthier returns elsewhere. It also explains why Japan’s credit rating will continue to grind lower in years ahead.

Yet of all the questions we should be asking today, this one may be most important: Is Japan politically unstable or is it, oddly, too stable for its own good?

Unmemorable Leaders

Moody’s Investors Service cited the former this week when it cut Japan’s rating one step to Aa3. Japan’s problem, though, is an impenetrable structure that repels the ideas and policies of leader after leader with nary a hiccup.

Japan isn’t really run by prime ministers, and the next one will quickly learn that frustrating fact. The commonly-accepted line on Kan is that his 14-month government was undone by a backlash over his leadership after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the nation’s deepest postwar crisis. In truth, Kan was pushed out by Japan’s ever-spinning political revolving door for trying to exact change.

The former activist came in talking big about attacking the group that really runs the nation: Japan’s vast bureaucracy. Kan wanted to pull decision-making out of bureaucrats’ hands, reduce their perks and ban them from the corrupt practice of taking cushy jobs after they leave government at the companies and power utilities they once oversaw. If you want to know why radiation is leaking from nuclear power plants in Fukushima, look no further than this incestuous practice.

Resisting Change

The nameless, faceless officials who run Japan resist change of any kind. Anything that might upset the fiefdoms they built up in decades on the job must be thwarted. The result is a system on autopilot with bureaucrats refusing to tell the prime minister how to switch to manual control.

Early in Kan’s tenure, his Cabinet struck fear in the hearts of bureaucrats with public hearings into their bloated budgets. The effort fizzled out when Kan realized he would get absolutely nothing done if Tokyo’s pencil pushers felt embattled.

Kan’s days were numbered for attempting to shake up Nagatacho, Japan’s answer to Capitol Hill. His demise accelerated the moment he set his sights on Japan’s powerful nuclear industry. With Fukushima leaking radiation into the nation’s food and water supplies and seismologists fretting about more big earthquakes, Kan moved to deemphasize Japan’s reliance on reactors for power. At that point, the knives really came out.

Spinning Faster

Japan’s revolving door is spinning faster than ever. When a Kan replacement is named next week, the duration of Japanese leadership will fall below a one-a-year average. You can just see the bureaucrats laughing at the Democratic Party of Japan’s promise to break their hold on the country.

It’s an incredible curiosity how Japan pulls it off. It’s a safe, highly literate, well-functioning nation that boasts some of the longest life spans anywhere and a relatively egalitarian socioeconomic structure. Yet the world is changing rapidly around Japan and it won’t wait for Tokyo to finally get seriously about raising the economy’s game.

Japan needs to learn how to grow without the artificial stimulants of zero interest rates and the world’s largest public debt. It needs to prepare for an aging workforce and embrace increased immigration to offset that dynamic. It needs to tweak tax laws to encourage entrepreneurship to create new jobs. It must empower its female population to do more than work in supporting roles for men. It must increase competitiveness.

None of this is afoot. Since change won’t come from the bureaucrats, it must derive from a visionary leader with the courage and perseverance to take on Japan’s labyrinthine and shadowy power structure. It can’t happen with the nation replacing its prime minister every several months.

That’s why Jobs’s resignation got more attention than Kan’s: Investors know that, for better or worse, things are about to change at Apple. They can’t say the same about Japan.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Willie Pesek in Mumbai at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at


Stephen on Steve: The most important man on Earth

‘He completely changed the way that human beings live’

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By Team RegisterGet more from this author

Posted in Bootnotes, 26th August 2011 14:38 GMT

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Legendary tech opinion-former Stephen Pie is currently in Mongolia filming for the dramatised bio-documentary of the life of J R R Tolkien, Not Another Fucking Elf – expected to be one of the mega-hits of 2012 – in which he plays the great writer’s imaginary pygmy butler confidante, Boggy. However he found time to send us his thoughts on the passing from our mortal ken of his close personal friend Steve Jobs.

Mr Pie, one of a select group of beta testers trialling the upcoming iPad Nano combination mini-fondleslab/voice-call device, was hampered by poor 5G cellular coverage in Ulan Bator and thus had to phone his thoughts in on a poor-quality intercontinental HF hookup. We’ve done our best to transcribe the results.

It’s Stephen here … I’m very happy to talk about Steve Jobs because he’s someone I’ve been lucky enough to be very, very close to for some time …

I don’t think there has ever been a human being on the planet as important … Steve has proven conclusively that passion and good taste are more important than having a hard <interference> …

He had invented … the idea of the home computer … then the Mac, which leapt forward in terms of user interface, with the menus, the mouse … clicking … email, the web … I could go on …

Of course when I say he invented it, he didn’t invent it, someone else did that … the idea that you have to be an inventor is nonsense … Hitler didn’t invent the telephone, Margaret Thatcher didn’t invent the handbag, Genghis Khan didn’t invent, you know, er, the hammer …

Steve Jobs has always understood that as human beings our primary relationship with anything is a sexual one. Take architects …

People go to work with strip lighting, ghastly carpets … we don’t tolerate them. Computers are like buildings, people visit them every day … he [Jobs] thought that they [the people?] should be smooth, and beautiful … a building can be witty and charming, and delightful, so can a person …

He [Jobs] thought that holding something in your hand, something that you should use to connect to other people, should bring a smile to your face … it’s something you should cradle, should love and have an emotional relationship with, and if people think that’s a bit onanistic, then, um, the success of Apple is proof of how right they are …

People don’t hate people because they drive a gold Maserati rather than, an, um, what do ghastly-carpet people drive, a Vauxhall … but when it comes to religion … if you think that someone is an Apple person you not only don’t let them have their Apple, you have to let them know how much you hate them and everything they stand for …

Steve Jobs, as well as being the most successful businessman of his era [?], has divided society … people have become “fanbois”, as people perceive me to be … in fact, as I hope you know, my love is not for humans but for the whole field of technology, I am celibate except when it comes to my thing which I hold in my hand … I would love it if every company was as, as dirty, as easy to use, as innovative as Apple …

But I’m not here to justify what I do to myself, I’m here to talk about a remarkable man … when we think of living in the age of Donald Trump or Neville Chamberlain, which we can’t do, people will look back on us and think, “this was the Age of Steve Jobs” … he changed the world, he changed the cultural landscape, he changed me from a doleful comedian into, well, whatever it is that I have become … a being of pure light I suppose …

You know the motor car, well it completely changed the way human beings live … obviously not quite so much in places where nobody’s got cars or for people who don’t have them … my thing in my hand is like a car, throbbing …

Well, he [Jobs] turned computing into an enjoyable experience where you could have a direct physical encounter with a small device like the iPhone, and whole new experiences with the iPad … he did it with passion, and always in the best possible taste …

I mourn his leaving the world of, of, of, of computing and the directness of contact that he’s had … as a man … I would like to call him a kind of friend …

It is a remarkable moment in the history of our time … there are few more important people on the planet … if I’d said that 10 years ago, you’d have thought I was completely insane …

I’ve gone on far too long, you can’t possibly play all of this … I’ve just said what I felt I needed to say.

The truly remarkable thing is how little of this is made up. ®

August 26, 2011

Kindergarten reform key to Laos’ educational development

View Original Source:   2011-08-25 12:21:58

VIENTIANE, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) — Laos is suffering a serious shortage of trained and suitably qualified teachers in early childhood education as a degree level teaching subject has not yet been established and the first batch of diploma teacher trainees will only graduate this year.

The majority of pre-school teachers in the country only hold associate diplomas, while very few hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in early childhood care and education.

Vila Sengsavang, Director of the Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College in Laos’ capital of Vientiane, said there was a time not so long ago when kindergarten teachers were only graduates of lower or upper secondary school.

“In the past most attention was given to primary education as it is compulsory while early childhood care and education was overlooked,” she said.

From 1998 to 2006, Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College was the only institute to produce certified teacher trainees in early childhood care and education, delivering around 150 new teachers each year.

Significant brain development occurs during early childhood, particularly during the first three years of life, and 75 percent of brain development takes place in the first six years.

“When children are not properly developed during this critical period, it affects their later performance and results in a high repetition rate in primary school,” Vila said.

Although formal schooling usually starts at the age of six, learning begins at birth. Humans are said to be born with 100 billion brain cells, which begin connecting immediately, with up to 1,000 trillion connections possible.

The early childhood years are the most critical as it is the time when a child acquires a wide range of skills and knowledge that lay the foundation of all future learning. Research shows that good nutrition, positive stimulation, affection and a safe environment influence how the cells connect, and once developed the brain is much harder to modify.

In Laos, about two students out of every 10 repeat grades in primary education, according to a recent United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) commissioned Global Monitoring Report on education. The primary drop-out rate is 33 percent. In 2008, 15 percent of three to five-year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary education, almost double the rate of 8 percent in 1999.

Somphavahn Chanpixorn, 33, a mother of two primary school age children, said parents in Laos now tend to send their children to pre-primary education as they see those who were enrolled at this level outperform those who were not.

There are now eight teacher education institutes in the country, all of which have recently started running the early childhood care and education program.

However, a lack of expertise, trained teachers, facilities and support services made it difficult to accommodate the early childhood care and education program in all teaching institutes, particularly in those early years.

Somphou Vichittra, Head of Pre-Service Teacher Education Curriculum Development Division at the Department of Teacher Training under the Lao Ministry of Education and Sports, said ” kindergarten places are in demand and so are pre-school teachers. But (the teacher training colleges) cannot produce an adequate number of qualified teacher trainees to meet the needs.”

Vila said “here in Laos, when there are teachers, there is no classroom, and when there are classrooms, there is no pre-school class.”

To date, there are around 4,500 teachers for approximately 1, 300 nursery schools and kindergartens to accommodate an approximate total of 100,000 children in pre-school education.

At present, Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College can produce up to 350 pre-school teachers per year. But a higher number of pre school teacher trainee graduates doesn’t necessarily guarantee more suitably qualified preschool teachers.

“At Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College we had never been able to select students until this academic year. The number of applicants had never exceeded the number of seats available, and due to the country’s teacher shortage, we needed to accept every candidate, even with their poor academic background and performances,” Vila said.

She added that “in the early years sometimes there were only 20- 30 students for each academic year applying for the early childhood care and education programme.”

The salary level is also a major factor in attracting teachers. Although teacher trainees receive monthly financial support of 60, 000 kip (about 7 U.S. dollars) as a government stimulus package to attract students, a low in-service salary of around 600,000 kip ( about 75 U.S. dollars) per month discourages many.

There is a saying that a teacher rides a motorcycle and only drinks water while a customs officer drives a pick-up and drinks whisky. Air Kaewmaniwong, a 30-year-old grocery owner, said “being a teacher here (in Laos) you must really love the job, but young people right now would like to have a well-paid job such as a doctor, or a customs officer.”

Bantom Phromma, 21, an associate diploma teacher trainee in early childhood care and education at Ban Keun Teacher Training College in Vientiane, said she is proud to be a teacher as she can give equal opportunities to rural school children.

Boonkam Vongchaisa, 41, a teacher educator in early childhood care and education at Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College said ” getting low pay is not a big deal. Being a teacher is about giving knowledge to people, to develop the nation.”

He said “I can be careful with spending and I grow vegetables and raise ducks and chickens for a living. But I want to have money to pursue my studies so that I can have more knowledge to teach my students.”

Vila asked “if we don’t see the value in developing people, how will the country be developed? If we don’t have kindergartens and pre-school teachers, what will the basic education of the country be like?”

The UNESCO Asia Pacific Bureau for Education in Bangkok has funded a series of workshops on pre-service teacher education curriculum review and revision, course outline development and educational management and administration, and field visits to Thailand since 2009 as part of the Capacity Development for Education for All (CapEFA) for Laos program.

The main objective of the program is to assist the Lao government to implement its educational reform aimed at building the expertise of Lao education personnel.

Over 150 teacher educators from faculties of education within three universities, and the eight teacher education institutions have attended the workshops. They were trained to plan, implement and monitor and evaluate their management and administrative work. Pre-service teacher education curriculum is being reviewed to bring it up-to-date with modern teaching methodologies and concepts, and respond to the nation’s needs.

The country’s development of teacher education programs and professional development has shown marked progress. In 2010-2011, Lao government figures reveal that there was an increase in quota teacher numbers to 9,385, along with an increase in teaching quality and professional development. In addition, an increased salary for teachers is pending approval.


Editor: Mo Hong’e
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